How strong are dental x-rays?

Many dentists have patients that express concerns with the radiation associated with dental radiographs, especially if we need a CT scan for the planning of a dental implant or grafting surgery. I get it....x-rays seem scary, and nobody likes having a weird machine pointed at their brains.

It often turns in to a long conversation, and some patients just plain decline, so I figured I would write a little about it.

Do you know how much radiation is in dental x-rays and dental CT Scans?

With today's modern digital x-ray sensors, we have SIGNIFICANTLY reduced the amount of radiation that we use to capture images.

For a full set of digital x-rays (12-16 images) we can get doses as low as under 20 microsieverts (µSv). This is 75% less than in the past with film! Read: Dental X-ray dosage

Say you need a Dental CT Scan....again, in the past, radiation doses were much higher than we have today. Modern (very expensive) dental CT scanners can get a good quality scan of a single jaw for as low as 35 µSv, with higher resolution or larger fields of view ranging from 60 µSv to just over 100 µSv. This is actually extremely low for the amount and value of the information we receive!

Read more: Dental CT dosage (This article does not include the i-CAT FLX V17 which is crazy low radiation)

What do these numbers mean?

Have you ever gone on a flight across the country?

Did they warn you about radiation? Did you have to wear a lead apron? Did you consider driving or taking a train instead because of the radiation? Did you spend 20 minutes questioning the airlines about it? Probably not, right?

Well this transcontinental flight exposes you to about 35 µSv of radiation! That is the same as a modern dental CT scan of one jaw! But did you think it was a big deal? No. Millions of people fly every day and most are not really concerned about increasing their risk of cancer.

Read: CDC Air Travel radiation (note: 0.035 mSv= 35 µSV)

But a dental CT scan.......well dentists and patients alike express concerns about the radiation. It is a big debate in dentistry, do we need a CT scan for every implant? At my office, absolutely yes!

The way I look at it, if you are willing to take on that radiation to go sip margaritas in Mexico, why wouldn't you for something as important as a dental implant surgery? (We can take a more serious look at the theoretical risks another day)

Did you know that you get about 80 x the radiation that is in a full set of dental x-rays just by living in Vancouver, per year?

People are always being exposed to radiation; radiation from the sun, from chemicals we breath and eat, and even from radioactive elements within us.

In Vancouver, it is estimated that it amounts to about 1.2 mSv (1200 µSv) a year! In Winnipeg it is more than 3 x higher at 4.1 mSv (4100 µSv) a year.

A couple of dental x-rays a year make a relatively small increase in that total, and they are for diagnostic purposes.

Read: Natural Background Radiation in Major Canadian Cities

We are not, however, to throw caution to the solar wind. Radiation exposure is something we want to reduce in the dental office, and dentists are trained to utilize radiographs in a manner that is As Low As Reasonably Achievable (ALARA Principles). So when I prescribe an intra-oral radiograph, or a dental CT Scan, I always explain to the patient what we are looking for, why we chose that view, and I even review the images with them, even if it just looks like a black and white Rorschach test to most people. Don't you want to know why we are zapping you? :)

Check out my video on the topic!

Thanks for reading and following!

Dr. Dave

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Nelson Avenue Dental

623 Nelson Avenue

Nelson, BC V1L 2N4

Tel: 250-354-4244


Mon-Thurs: 8am-4pm
Closed Fri-Sun
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